I often wonder what Jesus’ intimate prayer life was like – when He went off on His own to commune with God the Father, what was that experience? What words did He use, if any at all? What responses did He hear, if anything? In Luke’s Gospel, we find Jesus at prayer like this often, although he never describes what is going on there. We only get the aftermath.
Today’s gospel opens in just such a scene. Amid His prayer, Jesus stops, turns to His disciples, and asks them a question about who people say He is. Then, He wonders what they themselves think. And finally, He speaks of His own impending Passion. Why? Was there something in that prayer that prompted this? Well, as I pray about this scene, I am imagining what that prayerful conversation was like.
Amid the quiet peace of that hillside garden, Jesus hears the voice of the Father – as He has spoken before – remind Him again of His love for Him: “You are my most-beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased!” Have you ever really entered this deeply into prayer before? Do you know that God loves you like this too? The Father speaks further: “I have plans for You – a mission – plans for the good of all, for the salvation of the world and the redemption of My people Israel.” God is in charge of all our lives. “The road that You will walk will not be easy; it will bring suffering; it will bring death; but it will also bring glory. And this is the road that I lay out before you. Will you walk it, My Son?”
See Jesus consider the Father’s words. Yes, He is God’s Son; but He is also fully human. How difficult it must have been to hear that. However, He is obedient: “Of course I will walk it, Father. But these others – my disciples – will they understand? How could they? How can I know if they are ready?”
At this, Jesus rises and turns to His friends. “Who do the crowds say that I am?” Perhaps, as all the people talk about Jesus, His disciples have been listening to them. Of course, Jesus knows the correct answer to this question; and He continues: “Who do you say that I am?”
Christ is not asking for His own benefit. As I said, He know who He is. However, even knowing that He is “the Christ of God,” He also knows what lay ahead for Him: rejection, suffering, and death. How can these two things exist together – being beloved of the Father and being the rejected Messiah? This is the heart of the Christian question of suffering.
Friends, we are also God’s beloved sons and daughters. We are infinitely cared for and loved by the Father of all. He is well-pleased with us, because as He looks upon you, He sees someone joined with His Son Jesus - clothed with Christ.
And yet we suffer.
Last Sunday, in the early hours of the morning, the Pulse nightclub in Orlando was filled with beloved children of God.
And yet dozens died.
The little boy in Disney World with his family on Tuesday evening was beloved of God.
And now his family mourns his senseless death.
None of these stories of suffering make any sense. None at all.
… without the realization that Jesus is the Christ of God, and that His life, death, and resurrection have transformed the world as we know it.
We all have mourned in our lives: for lost loved ones, for lost innocence, for lost security. The world, sadly, is filled with occasions to mourn – and even to despair. However, because of Jesus – and our relationship with Him – those moments can even be moments of grace, so long as they are filled with the knowledge of who, exactly, Jesus is.
If He is the Messiah – the Christ of God – then we are saved. If He is who Peter confesses Him to be today, then every moment of our lives – even the painful ones – has meaning and value. Each one of us – rich or poor, young or old, gay or straight, native or refugee, black, white, male, female – whatever – has infinite value and worth as a beloved child of God because Jesus has made us so.
But this truth also requires something of us. We cannot run from suffering. We’d like to; but we can’t. Jesus didn’t, and He teaches us, if we wish to go where He goes, to deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” Sometimes, these daily crosses are simple, like bearing a disagreeable coworker; sometimes, they are near impossible, like the death of a child. However, we never bear those crosses alone; because we have recognized the One who gives them value and bears them with us: Jesus, the Christ of God.
Knowing Jesus allows us, then, to know ourselves. So we too must enter into that prayer life like Jesus. Talk to God; listen to Him. Hear Him once again tell you how much He loves you – no matter what.